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Nina Ahmad spent big to win the Pa. auditor general primary. Now she’s tied with an opponent with much less money.

Ahmad spent more than $1 million in two statewide races since 2018. Now the Democratic nominee for auditor general is in a tight race with a Republican with few resources.

Nina Ahmad.
Nina Ahmad.Read moreMatt Rourke / AP

Clout today explores how difficult and expensive a statewide race in Pennsylvania can be for a candidate with not much name recognition.

Nina Ahmad, a former deputy mayor from Philadelphia, spent almost $500,000 of her own money to win the six-candidate Democratic primary for state auditor general. That was after she spent more than $650,000 in a failed 2018 bid for lieutenant governor.

What did she get for dipping into her bank account to the tune of more than $1 million?

A Monmouth University Poll last month showed her statistically tied with the Republican nominee, Dauphin County Controller Tim DeFoor. Ahmad led DeFoor by 43% to 41%, with 12% of registered voters in the poll undecided, and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

DeFoor, who ran unopposed in his primary, has raised a little more than $23,000 this year and had just under $17,000 in the bank as of mid-September, according to campaign finance reports filed last week.

Still, he’s optimistic, and said the Monmouth poll sparked interest.

“Individuals and entities have reached out to me, wanting to support my campaign,” DeFoor said.

One group taking an interest is Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a conservative political action committee that has spent between $21,000 and $28,000 on Facebook ads to tout DeFoor since last week. The PAC has also spent almost $1.2 million this year to help Republican Heather Heidelbaugh in her bid to deny Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro a second term.

Ahmad, who had $106,814 in the bank as of mid-September, isn’t surprised her primary spending on television ads only went so far.

She sees voters synching up her race with the presidential election: DeFoor picks up supporters of President Donald Trump while she does the same with former Vice President Joe Biden’s supporters. And Biden is holding a sizable and consistent lead over Trump and in the state.

“I have a much broader coalition supporting me,” she said. “So there is a ground game across Pennsylvania that I don’t have to pay for.”

Does that mean she won’t be dipping back into the bank account she shares with her husband, real estate developer Ahsan Nasratullah?

“We are sort of saving our powder,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t use it. But that would be a strategic decision we make as a team.”

Shapiro punches up at Trump in TV in mail ballot battle

Regular readers know Clout’s rule on politics as pugilism: Always punch up, never down. That means, pick a big target to make the ring a more prominent platform.

If you turned on a television in the last two weeks, you probably saw Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor, throwing rhetorical jabs and uppercuts at Trump for the president’s many unsubstantiated claims about fraud with mail ballots in Pennsylvania and across the country.

Shapiro, who has been challenging Trump’s campaign in court, said on 60 Minutes last week that the president should “put up or shut up" by providing proof of his claims. That was followed by a flurry of appearances on CNN, including one Wednesday evening, followed by a spot on MSNBC an hour later.

Shapiro, widely seen as mulling a run for governor in 2022, is making the most of the exposure. He sent Clout a statement calling out Trump and his crew for “sowing doubt and confusion” about the election.

“Voters must have confidence in this election and the information they need, so from Pittsburgh to Scranton to cable television,” he said, "I am taking facts and evidence to the people and calling bulls— on the lies.”

Trump’s campaign did not respond when Clout asked for comment.

Former DA Seth Williams to out-of-jail citizens: Vote

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams spent Wednesday, which had been his originally projected release date from federal prison, in City Hall registering to vote. He also took to Twitter to urge other former prison inmates to learn about their right to vote.

“If you made bad decisions in the past and have paid your debt to society, don’t compound them by not voting! Learn your rights and #vote #GreatThingsHappenInPhilly,” Williams, a Democrat, tweeted Wednesday, with a nod to Trump’s claim during a presidential debate this week that “bad things happen” in Philadelphia elections.

Williams, who was released early in April after serving three years of his five-year sentence on a bribery charge, followed up Thursday with this tweet:

“Approximately 300,000 Philadelphians have criminal records. If you care about anything: economic justice, heath care, public safety, world peace, climate change, criminal justice reform, educational equity — Do something. #vote.”

Commonwealth Court, in a ruling that turns 20 years old in December, overturned a state law that said convicted felons had to wait five years after their release from prison to register to vote. They’re now eligible as soon as they are released.

“Now more than ever," Williams told Clout, “Philadelphians in general and returning citizens in specific need to learn your rights, how to register and how to vote.”